For the second straight year, the regular season powerhouse Phoenix Suns fell short of accomplishing their championship aspirations after suffering a brutal Game 7 loss on their home floor to the Luka Doncic-led Dallas Mavericks in the quarterfinals of the NBA playoffs. The Mavericks led 57-27 at halftime, which was the most significant halftime margin in NBA history, and never looked back.
It is tough to respond after coming up just short in back-to-back years, but this team has a group of resilient players. Not to mention, the talent and core remain firmly intact of what head coach Monty Williams wants to build and expand on. The Western Conference is only getting better. The league is getting better, so winning a championship is not easy and getting back there once you suffered a loss is just as hard. The West runs through Golden State, and they are not going anywhere anytime soon. Nonetheless, the Suns plan on picking up right where they left off after finishing with the best record in the NBA at 64-18. The Suns are the only team in NBA history who have increased their win total by 13 in three consecutive seasons. That said, here is the most realistic lineup for the Phoenix Suns next season.
The Suns Remain A Serious Threat In The West
Devin Booker is the most talented player on this team, so ultimately, for the Suns to be a championship team, he has to play up to that par. Although, you could make a serious case that the heart and soul of this squad runs through the Hall of Fame point guard Chris Paul, the leader of this group, and Deandre Ayton, who sets the tone in the interior and on the defensive end. Chris Paul is 37 years old, and the Suns almost lost Ayton in free agency, which would have been a significant loss to their team. But they decided to match the Indiana Pacers offer sheet and, for their sake, luckily retained him.
The Suns didn't make many changes to their roster. The core players all remain, and they added some minor additions with the signings of Damion Lee, an athletic guard coming from the Warriors, and Duane Washington Jr., an undrafted rookie out of Ohio State who played all of last season with the Indiana Pacers. Washington added 9.9 PPG last season for Indiana in 48 games played.
The Most Realistic Roster For The Phoenix Suns
Starting Lineup: Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Deandre Ayton
The Best Bench Players: Cameron Johnson, Dario Saric, Cameron Payne, Landry Shamet, Bismack Biyombo
Nothing changes from the last two seasons to now for the Suns' starting lineup. You may see a small lineup Monty Williams uses in intervals with Cam Johnson playing with this group instead of Crowder or Ayton to test defense limits around the perimeter. But the five who have started the last two seasons will be back in similar roles. The chemistry is too strong for Williams to make any significant changes, and they haven't added anyone in free agency or through the draft that would replace anyone in that core.
As mentioned above, this team will go as far as Devin Booker and Chris Paul take them. Last season, Booker had a career year and averaged 26.8 PPG, 46.6% FG, 5.0 REB, and 4.8 AST. Booker was not only named an NBA All-Star, but he was also named to the All-NBA First Team, which is a significant accomplishment. This was Booker's first time in his NBA career that he had been selected for an All-NBA first team. His game as a passer and a rebounder grew so much last year, which was a critical factor in the Sun's overall success. He has developed into so much more than just a natural scorer. We always knew his abilities shooting the three-ball at a high level, making savvy moves in the mid-range game, and having a stout turnaround jumper. But now, creating for others while being able to control the tempo of an offense makes him such a more dynamic weapon for the Suns. If he can take another step forward in the 2022-2023 season, this team could be right back into the fold of championship contenders.
Deandre Ayton could be the main X-factor this year for the Suns. The fact that Phoenix was hesitant about matching the Pacers offer sheet makes you a little wary of his overall value. Ayton was a former first-round pick out of Arizona. He has yet to be selected to an All-Star game in his first four seasons in the league. However, he is still one of the better young centers in the game. He averaged 17.2 PPG, 63.4 FG%, and 10.2 REB per game. From a numbers standpoint, Ayton is a very solid player. He is efficient, and he does his job at a high level. But there are ways he can still develop his game and grow as a player. He lacks a jump shot. He has a pretty little mid-range that is in the works, but outside of that, he is not a threat at all around or near the perimeter. Now he doesn't necessarily have to be. But having that ability to force a defense to play you out there not only spaces the floor for yourself to do work, but it also spaces the floor for your entire team. It opens up the paint where guys like Chris Paul and Devin Booker can do serious damage if they get a step on their defenders and get inside.
The real question is if guys like Cameron Johnson and Mikal Bridges can take the next steps in their games. They are both very solid players, and you cannot question that, but for the Suns to win a championship, they might need to be more than that. Don't need to be All-Stars, but potentially being on that cusp could be precisely what the Suns need. Bridges is the best on-ball defender on the Suns' roster. Also, Johnson was the best and most important player off the bench last year. Their roles are vital, but in games where Chris Paul and Booker are struggling from the field (Game 7 vs. the Mavs), Bridges and Johnson need to be able to be big enough threats that they can take over a game and help the Suns to a victory or at the very least keep the game competitive. Bridges and Johnson, at the moment, are mid-tier scorers with the ability to be above-average scorers in this league. We have seen glimpses where they show all of their tools and look like they could be the next star in Phoenix, but the consistency isn't there yet, and it needs to be if the Suns want to hang a banner.
Last Chance For Chris Paul
Chris Paul is 37 and will be 38 in May, and he is still playing at an extremely high level but after falling just short the last two seasons. The Suns' run this year could be the last chance he gets at the idea of winning a ring in this league. There is nobody more deserving of a championship than Chris Paul in the NBA after his career and the way he has transformed the point guard position. But it might be too late. Paul averaged an easy double-double last year with 14.7 PPG and 10.8 AST per game and is this team's vocal leader. He is the engine that makes this team run. But the inconsistency in the postseason has raised a few questions. Paul has supplanted his legacy in the NBA and will always be one of the most significant point guards to play the game and has everything on his resume a player could ask for; the only thing missing is a championship ring, and this might have to be the year the Suns get it done, or he may retire ringless.
The Suns are a chemistry-driven ball club, and outside of signing Chris Paul and a few other bench pieces, they built this roster primarily out of the draft. They have all the talent to win an NBA Championship, but the path back to the Finals may just be the hardest one yet, with teams like the Warriors, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Mavericks, Clippers, Nuggets, Lakers, and Timberwolves standing in their way. It will be interesting to see what Monty Williams does to take this team to the next level after making minimal off-season moves.